Whenever it gets to be the end of July, I start getting a little nostalgic. It’s rather odd, why I begin to look wistfully at the past. July 26 is the day my father died. Perhaps, though, that isn’t as odd as it sounds.
Seven years ago (almost), a large chunk of my childhood died. So, for five years, near the end of July, I would start thinking about that childhood that I lost. Then, two years ago, my mother passed away of lung cancer. I’m 27 years old and I’m in the position most people don’t get into until they’re in their forties, fifties, or sixties. I’m an orphan. All I have now are memories, photos, and trinkets.
And memories have a bad habit of lying or giving bad information. Trinkets and photographs don’t speak. It used to be, one of my parents would correct a memory, or explain an unfamiliar face in the background of a photo, or tell the story behind a trinket. If I had a question, I would just call and nine times out of ten, one of them would have the answer.
I was especially thinking of this today while dusting. I dust in a rather haphazard fashion, shifting items from one end of the shelf to another and probably leaving plenty of dust behind in the process. As I moved things around, I thought, “I got this geo from my grandmother; it’s from Alaska. This little doll was given to me by my aunt from when she lived in Nevada or Arizona. I got these stones when Brad and I went to Mile High Bridge. My godfather gave me these birds’ nests.”
Twenty, thirty, forty, or however many years from now, when someone is going through my things after I’ve taken the big plunge, and they have questions, who are they going to ask? I haven’t recounted most of the stories of these things to anyone and who would care to listen, especially if I have no children? All of these memories will either be forgotten or tarnished, just as, now, when I pick up something that my parents would have been knowledgeable about, I have no one to turn to and can only rely on my own memory or at least an educated guess.
So I start longing for a time when our family was fuller, when both of my parents, all of my grandparents, and a few more great-aunts and great-uncles were alive. It seemed like the past was more real then because there were stories. All you had to do was ask and, in some cases, have the patience to wait for them to get through all of the digressions that older people tend to make when telling a story. Heck, the digressions were half the fun, most of the time.
Not having someone to turn to makes for maddening mysteries. When I was going through my mother’s things, I came across a guitar pick in her jewelry box. Now, as far as I know, neither of my parents played the guitar. My mother played the flute back in high school but flutes are wind instruments (obviously). My father had a beautiful singing voice but it was his brother that strummed the guitar. So, where did the pick come from? There’s nothing special about it. Just a bit of yellowed plastic with a store’s name and phone number stamped on it. Had she dated a musician once upon a time? Or had she gone to a concert and one of the band members gave it to her?
I feel like there’s significance to it because it was in her jewelry box. We ladies know that we only put important things in our jewelry boxes, keepsakes we don’t want lost, earring backs that may come in handy, etc. Wayward junk with no meaning does not end up in a woman’s jewelry box for the most part.
I asked my godfather, who knew my mother for many years, but he had no idea either. Once, my mom spoke of a man she loved named Peter, and she only spoke about him because I asked a question about old loves. She never mentioned him again. I wonder if this pick has something to do with Peter, the man she still loved decades after leaving him. The one man she ever regretted leaving, as she told the story. And I always find it interesting how important are the stories people don’t tell.
Where’s the pick now? In my jewelry box. I suppose I could throw it away but it’s a bit of mystery I can’t let go. It’s a bit of my mother’s past that both makes her more real and present to me while also making me long for a past where I could have asked her about this object. And maybe she would have had a wonderful story or would have shrugged and said, “I can’t remember why I keep that old thing. You can have it if you want.”
Either way, the past looks so much more appealing when many of the players are gone. A stage is always the emptiest after the actors have left. But there’s nothing for it, is there? This is life, a constant shedding of actors and memories until we shed our very earthly life, flinging ourselves into the stars on to…whatever is next. I have a belief about what is next but this isn’t the place for that.
But, even though that’s what life is, I can’t help but have nostalgia. The past is important and is worth remembering. Maybe that’s why I write stories, encapsulating some of the feeling and memory of days gone past so that they’ll never be forgotten. Perhaps all of us writers are natural nostalgics.